Columbus Day and the Erasure of Black History

13 Oct

Came Befoe Columbus

We all know Columbus didn’t discover America.

Yet, 522 years later, famous white people still get credit for the accomplishments of folks of color. Just ask the LA Times and Marie Claire who invented cornrows, Forbes who runs hip hop, and Vogue who made big booties fashionable. Women who look like Iggy Azeila, Kendall Jenner, and Miley Cyrus get most of the credit.

The trend of discovering something new that’s not new has been in style since 1492. So we cannot forget to tip our hats to Christopher Columbus, the man who started the “discovering” trend himself.

Meanwhile, the African explorers depicted in the Olmec heads are turning over in their ancient Mexican graves thinking, “Been there, done that…Where’s our holiday?”

Contrary to popular belief, Africans from Ancient Nubia and the Mali Empire came to the Americas more than 2,000 years before Columbus, and no, they were not slaves (you gotta make that clear for some folks). They were explorers and drifters who happened upon foreign lands and eventually became a part of the culture, influencing the art, language, and government of native civilizations.

Few know that the step pyramids at La Venta in Tabasco, Mexico, parallel those from Ancient Nubia and Egypt because of Nubian contact with ancient Mexicans, that the Olmec heads at La Venta resemble African men in facial structure and hair texture, or that Negroid skeletons dating back to 1250 AD were found in the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to historian Ivan Van Sertima, author of They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America (1976) and several other linguists, archeologists, botanists, and art historians researching in their respective fields, African pioneers crossed the Atlantic sometime between 800-680 BC.

Though many of us have never hear this information (f*ck what you heard!), this is not news. Nearly 100 years ago, historian Leo Wiener published a booked entitled Africa and the Discovery of Americas, which was immediately met with raciallycharged criticism and disbelief. Critics could not fathom Africans doing anything noteworthy, and denied the evidence of Africans in the Americas. Or, when they did accept the evidence, they assumed that those Africans were not explorers, but slaves brought over by Europeans.

Because of their “racial reflexes”, as Sertima calls them, scholars in academia were blinded by their racist views and failed to accept historical, linguistic, cultural, and biological facts that pointed to a glaring truth of African presence in the Americas.

Sadly, academia has not been purged of this racism—and we spoon feed it to our children. You won’t find much mention of African explorers in your school history books. Our education system is dangerously Eurocentric. Our history curriculums reinforce the same colonial ideas about race that the nay-sayers of academia make: black people are slaves, not explorers. In failing to discuss the ties between African and ancient American history in elementary through college classrooms, we silence truth and give Columbus, Vespucci, and other European explorers credit they shouldn’t fully possess. Leaving this history out of textbooks gives glory to white men and denies the explorations and successes of people of color.

I’m not saying Africans discovered America. That would be especially ignorant considering there were already great civilizations flourishing before their arrival, and I wouldn’t want to repeat that trend of not giving credit where credit is due. I’m also not saying that Africans were the only ones to arrive. The book also mentions contact with Asians, Polynesians, and other groups. Sertima sums it up perfectly at the end of his book: “all great civilizations are heavily indebted to one another… [and] no race has a monopoly on inventive genius.”

In honor of all the explorers of color, I highly suggest you pick up a copy of They Came Before Columbus or any other book that tells an alternative narrative of black pioneers. If the schools aren’t teaching it, we have to teach ourselves. #KnowYourHistory

One Response to “Columbus Day and the Erasure of Black History”


  1. Columbus Day and the Erasure of Black History | hippiesrirachagirl - October 13, 2014

    […] Columbus Day and the Erasure of Black History. […]


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